Yesterday, CICLOPS (that’s Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for Operations) released a fascinating new image of Saturn titled “A Splendor Seldom Seen.”
Courtesy NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, the image was taken on October 17, 2012.
As you can see from the ghostly hues, Saturn is backlit by the sun, putting Cassini in the planet’s shadow. Because of this, both Earth and the Sun are hidden from view, but you can see two of Saturn’s moons, Enceladus and Tethys, near the lower left.
Cassini Imaging Team Leader and CICLOPS Director Carolyn Porco published a statement regarding the image yesterday in her Captain’s Log:
“On Oct. 17, 2012, during its 174th orbit around the gas giant, the spacecraft was deliberately positioned within Saturn’s shadow, a perfect location from which to look back at Saturn in the direction of the sun and take a backlit view of the rings and the dark side of the planet. Looking at a plantary body illuminated by the sun from behind is a geometry referred to by planetary scientists as “high solar phase;” near the center of the body’s shadow is the highest phase possible. This is a very coveted viewing position as it can reveal details about the target, in this particular case both the planet’s atmosphere and rings, that cannot be seen at lower solar phase.”
This isn’t the first time Cassini has been in Saturn’s shadow. It was able to take a mosaic of images in September 2006, which later became “In Saturn’s Shadow – the Pale Blue Dot,” in which Earth is visible.
It’s a rare sight, though. This latest shot is actually in “false-color,” too, meaning you’re seeing Saturn “as it truly is.”